Football: Sport on TV: Pub performers given final push by a safe pair of hands

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE some great stories about the motivational methods used by football managers over the years in the dizzy pursuit of success. At Crystal Palace during the 1970s, to take an example from nowhere in particular, Malcolm Allison once famously invited the soft-porn actress Fiona Richmond into the communal bath with the team ("I felt she'd been working very hard," Big Mal would explain later. What happened when the players worked hard is anyone's guess).

Then there was Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, whose more innocent practice of buying ice lollies for players as a reward for hard work in training seemed to pay far more handsome dividends.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, the methods called upon by all-round steady influence David Seaman in Guiding Stars (Sky One, Sunday) were based on the teachings of neither of these great men. In the programme, the Arsenal and England goalkeeper was given a managerial debut challenge of turning around the fortunes of Chiltern FC, a hapless Sunday league pub side who had never before made it past the first round of their local knockout tournament, the Bill Finch Subsidiary Cup.

Seaman spent six months overseeing training sessions and generally knocking the side into shape, relying on a mixture of jolly laughter and morale- boosting bobble hats as his chief psychological weaponry. Despite one or two teething problems - his ill-advised suggestion that the players stay away from the pub on Saturday night and stick to a diet of boiled chicken was greeted with general hilarity - the tactics seemed to work. By the end of the first episode of this two-parter, Chiltern had scraped through to the final after a series of cliffhanging extra-time victories.

It all made for compulsive viewing, just watching the matches brought memories of Sunday morning hangovers flooding back, but at the same time it was difficult not to feel sorry for the other teams in the competition who were clearly no longer competing on a level playing field, despite the best efforts of Seaman and the cameras to maintain a low profile.

Narrated by Mark Radcliffe, Guiding Stars promises more of the same in the coming weeks - Lawrence Dallaglio is scheduled for an appearance at some stage, I wonder if he'll be showing prospective young rugby players how to go about arranging a sponsorship deal.

There was hardly long enough to stock up on lager and curry again before the ever-majestic Mark and Lard were back on our screens. This time they were at the helm of Match of the Nineties (BBC1, Monday), as we were time- warped back through the mists to 1998 - the year in which Arsenal won the Double, Chelsea won the Cup-Winners' Cup and the English adopted David Beckham as their official National Hate Figure.

A vintage year then, made all the more poignant by the realisation that the final whistle, surely with no prospect of extra time, looms large for this consistently mighty series. As ever there were no shortage of talking points, with Mark and Lard in customary fine form, yet it was a crafty reverse pass by the producers midway through the programme that really caught my imagination.

The trick was as simple as it was inspired: take the match highlights, strip away the TV sound and replace it with commentary of the same game from Radio Five Live's Alan Green and Ron Jones. Whether it was a move borne out of expediency or sheer genius, it certainly worked. I was left pondering why - and I intend no disrespect to either Lord Motson or Sir Barry of Davies, God bless you squires, long may you reign - the brilliant duo never made that supposed step onwards and upwards into the television gantry.

Personally I'd like to see Mark and Lard, or maybe even Reeves and Mortimer, given the chance to do radio commentary on the FA Cup final. Apart from anything, it would be interesting to see how many people turned off their TV volume and switched on the radio instead.

As to whether it work, you only have to look as far as Australia, where Roy Slaven and HG Nelson's surreal and extremely funny radio commentaries on the Aussie Rules and Rugby League Grand Finals are a national institution.

The week's award for commentating excellence, however, goes to Johnathan Gould and Todd Macklin of Major League Baseball (Channel Five, Monday), whose live feed of the game between New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians was stripped of any sound whatsoever for the first four innings by Hurricane Floyd. As it was, the boys made a sterling recovery despite the added problem of a complete lack of action in the game. One you could definitely describe as a storming performance.